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The Isle of Wight branch of the Campaign for Real Ale

Daphnie's War

by Daphne Cook

It was just seven days after my eighth birthday when World War Two started. The first I remember of that time was being fitted with a horrible black gas mask. It smelled of rubber and made you snort like little pigs. These were in brown boxes and had to be carried everywhere we went in case the Germans dropped gas on us. Thank goodness they never did.

daphe01 For the first year of the War, I and my big sister Jean, were evacuated with three other girls from the home I was growing up in. We were chosen from 90 others, just us five to be taken by car to stay in Haselmere in Surrey.

We lived very happily with a lady and gentleman who fed us and made a fuss of us. The thing I remember most was we evacuees only went to the village school for half of each day. The local children went in the mornings and us in the afternoons. This must have affected our learning. My sister was the eldest of us five and she took us to and from school each day. We were allowed a penny each day to buy sweets on the way home from school. We had rabbit stew on Sundays and were allowed to pick apples or pears from the trees after dinner. The kind gentleman would come and knock them down for us with his walking stick. We stayed at Grayswood, Haselmere for a whole year, we really didn't notice the war much until we returned in the summer 1940 to our school in Esher. This is a town very near to London.

Things were very different there. We had to start sleeping in the cellars every night because the German planes had started coming over to bomb London nearly every night. We slept on mats in this cold stone cellar. We would hear the thuds and the sirens.

One very bad night we were all got up in the darkness and taken outside across the grounds. There were incendiary bombs on the roof and a large bomb in the driveway at the front of the house had made a huge crater. Firemen were running everywhere. All we children, all girls from 5 to 16 years old were stood outside shivering in our shoes and night clothes listening to the firemen's shouts for more water. We had all brought a blanket with us but the shivering was from fright as we stood and watched the German planes going over our heads in the dark. We knew they were German by the sound of the engines' special throb.

My Mother at that time was living and working in London. That summer I was to go down to Southend on Sea for a holiday with my Granny and Grandad who had a farm by the sea. We set off at teatime from London. We had got used to the air raids now, so we were not surprised when we got to the Underground station we found we couldn't go on and for most of that night we slept down in the Underground station with many others who spent most nights down there while the bombs did their worst. It was the early hours of the next morning before we could continue our journey on to Granny's.

There were very few buses out from the town to the farm, so we just had to walk the three miles. As it was a coastal village there were guard posts along the road. We were challenged by a soldier with a gun who said "Halt. Who goes there?". I was very scared and got behind my Mum. We had to show our identity cards, which everyone carried everywhere.

There were big guns in the field behind Granny's house. We would watch German planes going over to bomb London. The guns would start up "Bang Bang Bang". We would cheer as we watched in the dark if they hit one. We didn't think they might even be shot down on us.

Somehow, we got through without losing any of our close family. Three of my uncles were away as soldiers but my father was older so he became a fireman fighting all the fires the bombs were making in London. He would work all day as a school caretaker in Hampton, Middlesex then, at night, he would set off on his bike to cycle to London where he was stationed with the A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service).

Lots of things were very different for everyone. The pencils at school were no longer coloured. The iron railings and gates were all taken away to make planes and bullets to help the war effort. Everyone "Dug for Victory".

In 1944 it was decided it was no longer safe for the Home to stay at Esher. I was a Girl Guide and 13 years old. After a long summer holiday with my Granny at Southend, we were told to go to King's Cross Station in London to meet with some others who were returning from holidays. We had to get on a train to Bradford in Yorkshire.

This was a great experience for us all. We had always gone to school with girls only and Esher village school kept us from 5 till 14 years in normal times. This was the first wonderful surprise. The whole home of 90 girls had moved to Yorkshire. We were to attend a Comprehensive School - Boys and Girls!

We soon all had boyfriends. It was a lovely school with music and books and new friends. We slept on three tier bunk beds all squashed up. The people were friendly and kind to us. Across the road from our new home there was a cotton mill. We would hear the workers arriving in the mornings with wooden clogs clanging on the pavement. While in Yorkshire I saw real snow, the most I've ever seen. We were allowed out on the moors with sledges to slide down the hills. The snow was so deep no traffic could run and we had to walk through ditches of snow dug along the pavement. You could only see the heads of the people walking across the other side of the road.

I mention that I had joined the Guides during the War. Of course we couldn't go to camp but we all learned to knit and we knitted scarves and mittens and balaclava hats for soldiers and airmen. We also had a big mock air raid where we Guides were the casualties. I was a head injury and a broken leg. We enjoyed being bandaged up and made up with pretend wounds and splints.

I was in London again with my mother when the war ended. We had heard on the news that there was to be a big parade. Mother and I set off early in the morning to walk from Kensington to go and see the King and Queen and the Royal Family come out on to the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

There were millions of people about but nowadays whenever I see pictures of the people dancing and the soldiers marching past and the flags waving on the V.E. Day parade, I say I was there.

The war changed everyone who lived at that time. Lots of children didn't see their fathers for six years. Many never returned at all.

Many women had to do work that men had always done. I joined the Woman's Land Army in 1947 so I did a little bit after it was all over.

We remember those who didn't come back who died fighting for our King and Country on November 11th every year when we lay a poppy for Remembrance Day.

We Will Remember Them.